This Monday morning, for everyone in the dealership — from the make-ready department to the dealer principal — a new boss is in charge. Actually, this boss has been in charge all along, but now deserving of proper recognition.
In the event that no one recognizes who the new boss might be, let me point out that the new boss has always been the customer. More significant as far as customer retention goes, the new boss is the dealership’s collective treasury of existing customers. Serve this boss right and everyone becomes a winner.
Here are reasons why recognizing and engaging existing customers as the boss can be such a profitable new attitude to embrace:
- They are a dealership’s best repository of new business, both vehicle purchases and service.
- When courted maturely by the dealership they become valuable word-of-mouth ambassadors.
- It is much less expensive to retain a customer’s business than it is to attract and convert a new customer. Pleasing this boss can result in lower expenses for sales and marketing.
- They are a source of quality late-model trades originally sold and then serviced by the dealership. By focusing sales to and trades from existing customers, many dealers all but eliminate the need for auctions to stock their pre-owned departments.
If retention is important…
Customers today want control – and they want to control their car buying and vehicle servicing experiences. They’re marching right away from dealerships whose processes are obstacles to convenience and control.
Now is a good time to eliminate or modify steps, processes, and policies that do little to enhance customer control, convenience, and engagement. In other words, what might the dealership do to deliver on these consumer desires:
- Bob Atwood, a dealership management instructor with NADA Dealer Academy suggests maintaining service hours that parallel showroom sales hours (or later and include weekend service hours) to be more accessible when it’s convenient to customers, not the staff.
- Xtime, a leading provider of retention solutions, reports that dealerships enabling customers to schedule their own service appointments through the dealership’s website, are boosting service retention.
- Tools like AutoAlert’s mobile app can help the dealership convert service customers to new-car buyers, creating new vehicle purchases, and keeping them in the dealership family for ongoing service. Mobile devices loaded with customer analysis software can help sell vehicles, service contracts or additional parts, and labor on the service lane.
What is driving this? Some of the trends working to the dealership’s advantage:
- The faded influence of quality: Few would argue that nearly every make of vehicle on the road today is built with superior fit, finish and mechanical quality. An OEM’s and dealership’s ability to retain customers based on a quality edge seems to have lost its grip on retention.
- The attraction of choice: Make and model options are many today. No one brand or model seems to hold an edge for long. As for service, other dealerships and the independent, big box and franchise service centers offer many alternatives. The Internet expands consumers’ shopping reach across the globe.
- The tyranny of time: Time is in shortage for most everyone. Whether a result of workload, family obligations, or a compressed lifestyle, time is more precious than ever. Waste it for consumers and loyalty and retention suffers.
Customer retention can be hard to achieve these days. Factory retention and loyalty programs can help, but every individual in the dealership is responsible for engaging customers and bringing them back when they drift away.
A practical place to start engaging the new boss is by making it easy and convenient for them to do business with you. This may mean:
- Making it easy for them to shop your inventory, run their credit and “talk” to a sales person, all online.
- Make it easy and nonthreatening for them to check service prices and schedule service appointments online.
- Delivering a more thorough yet briefer service check-in by having everything about them and their vehicle in-hand, in a mobile device, to greet them personally and professionally and start the service write-up and vehicle inspection steps more promptly.
- Communicate to them via text, voice, email or phone the status of their vehicle. Force them to call to check on their status and the dealership loses valuable trust and retention points with the consumer.
- Be more assertive in solving their vehicle ownership challenges and identifying purchase opportunities. Consider that many recently sold customers’ lifestyles might have changed since buying. Most new bosses would certainly like to trade up from their current-year model to the next, if in some magical way the numbers could work out. Fortunately, software is available today to help the dealership recognize these needs and address them.
If customers are your new boss, your existing customers are your best new bosses. They’ve bought and serviced with you before, and some level of trust and favor is already established.
Your best new boss is still demanding, but a little more tolerant. Win them again by making it easier for them to do business with you. Save them time. If you can, help them move out vehicle-ownership situations that may no longer favor them today. Make a really pleased new boss by helping them out of a vehicle they no longer want or prefer and into a new model of one they do, without them having to make a substantial cash exchange in the process.